Sun Ra recommendations?
October 24, 2010 12:23 PM   Subscribe

Ever since this August's Sun Ra thread, I've found myself digging deeper & deeper into his back catalog, which is at turns obscure, uneven, and daunting. I could use a little guidance to figure out which albums I should track down, and which I can skip. So, Sun Ra aficionados, which albums are your can't miss favorites -- the ones you return to, the ones I've got to listen to -- and what makes them stand out to you? This thread is of some help, but I'd like to cast a wider net than that OP did: any era, any group size are fine as far as I'm concerned.
posted by .kobayashi. to Media & Arts (10 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
"Strange Celestial Road" and "Nuclear War" are my two favorites. Check out the astonishing opening to a film about him by searching for "Space Is The Place (1974)" on Youtube.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 12:30 PM on October 24, 2010

i love his version of the batman theme...
posted by sexyrobot at 1:12 PM on October 24, 2010

I tend to like my Sun Ra both connected and disconnected from earth's gravitational pull. As such, Cosmos (from 1976) is currently getting a lot of play. I love this bit from the liner notes:

"My music," notes Sun Ra, "will at first frighten people. My music represents happiness, and people aren't used to that yet."

posted by philip-random at 5:16 PM on October 24, 2010

Jazz in Silhouette is great, if you've not already encountered it. It's actually fairly conventional sounding by Sun Ra standards, though I can still detect the occasional hint of Saturn in some of the harmonies...
posted by d11 at 5:18 PM on October 24, 2010

Depends which side of his music you like best, but Nubians of Plutonia and Angels and Demons at Play are both incredible, incredible.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 6:07 PM on October 24, 2010

> Jazz in Silhouette is great

It really, really is. That's the Sun Ra record I always recommend to people who want to give him a try; it's got a timeless sound and is recorded surprisingly well. The Penguin Guide to Jazz gives it one of their "classic" crowns and quotes Francis Davis as saying, accurately, that "Enlightenment" would make a great blindfold test—it "might have been recorded at any point from the '40s to the late '80s." If you don't have it, get it.

I'll divide the others into "easy listening" and "weird" for convenience; obviously the first is not meant as a putdown (these are some of my favorite records), just to indicate they won't frighten your Duke/Pops/Basie-fan uncle. (Actually, early Ra sometimes sounds a lot like Duke.) In the first category:

Super-Sonic Jazz: tinny recording but fine music. Listen to John Gilmore's tenor solo on "Sunology" and you'll wonder why this guy isn't as widely admired as Hawk and the rest.

Sound Sun Pleasure!! (CD includes early-'50s material released on LP as Deep Purple): a mixed bag, but delightful. Has Stuff Smith on title track!

Holiday For Soul Dance: Standards, very enjoyable.

We Travel The Space Ways/Bad and Beautiful: Transitional, but even the weird stuff won't frighten the horses.

The weird stuff:

Cosmic Tones for Mental Therapy/Art Forms of Dimensions Tomorrow: In the first place, are those great titles or what? In the second place, Cosmic Tones for Mental Therapy was recorded in 1963. Unbelievable. Listen to that spooky percussion, the echo slathered everywhere, the Clavioline—this is proto-Afro-psychedelia. And John Gilmore plays bass clarinet throughout, the last time he'd play it with Ra. Art Forms was recorded earlier and is more of a mixed bag, but well worth listening to.

Other Planes of There: A long "concerto for Arkestra" (as Penguin calls it) plus shorter, more jazzlike cuts. I'd call it his first out-there masterpiece.

The Magic City: A great record, collectively improvised by a band that had been playing together and honing its chops for years. "The Magic City" is the slogan of Birmingham, Alabama, Ra's home town, and he obviously put a lot of himself and his feelings about his roots into the music. Don't miss it.

Atlantis: Same period, almost as amazing. A big band putting out a lot of noise.

Mayan Temples: A late (1990) treasure, some of Ra's best piano playing and top-notch Gilmore and Marshall Allen.

Well, I could go on, but that's a good start!
posted by languagehat at 6:26 PM on October 24, 2010 [6 favorites]

Lots of good recommendations here -- thanks everybody!
posted by .kobayashi. at 7:02 PM on October 24, 2010

Space Is the Place is an absolute must film..
posted by alhadro at 9:18 PM on October 24, 2010

Sun Song is a beauty. Hard swinging, almost conventional, with a lot of Fletcher Henderson in there.
posted by Wolof at 10:59 PM on October 24, 2010

If it's the weird stuff you're after, nothing, NOTHING beats Strange Strings...
posted by Joseph Gurl at 8:58 PM on October 25, 2010

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